UN body mulls deep sea mining amid demand for minerals
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Pressure is mounting on an obscure United Nations body based in Jamaica to hit pause on plans to potentially open the world's deep seas to mining as companies push for permission to extract metals from seabeds in international waters.
The International Seabed Authority on Friday closed two weeks' worth of negotiations without approving rules and regulations to oversee deep sea mining amid growing calls to pause, ban or place a moratorium on the quest to extract minerals from the Earth's watery depths that are used in green technology like electric car batteries.
While the first exploration licences for deep sea mining were issued in 2001, the authority has yet to receive an application for actual mining. Individual countries and private companies can start applying for provisional licenses on July 10 if the UN body does not approve a set of rules and regulations by July 9, which experts say is highly unlikely since they believe the process could take several years.
“We know what a crucial period…the council is in at the moment,” Deryck Lance Murray, the authority's representative for Trinidad and Tobago, said at the closing meeting on Friday.
Scientists worry that deep sea mining would disrupt critical ecosystems that regulate climate change, and a growing number of countries are siding with them, including France, Spain, Germany, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
“When in doubt, favour nature,” Edward Aníbal Pérez, the authority's representative from the Dominican Republic, said at the closing meeting on Friday.
He noted that while he is aware of the importance of certain minerals given that mankind is on the brink of an energetic transition, he said deep sea mining is not the sole alternative to meet growing demand.
“It is clear there are doubts as to the effects that this activity might cause,” he said.
Scientists have warned that deep sea mining would kill species and damage ecosystems by releasing noise, light and dust storms, while companies that support such mining argue it is cheaper and has less of an impact than land mining.
More than 30 exploration licenses have been issued so far, with activity mostly focused in an area called the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, which spans 1.7 million square miles (4.5 million square kilometres between Hawaii and Mexico.
Exploration there has been occurring at depths ranging from 13,000 to 19,000 feet (4,000 to 6,000 metres).
The rush and demand for minerals come as a growing number of countries and companies turn to green energy in a bid to reduce pollution.
Follow The Gleaner on Twitter and Instagram @JamaicaGleaner and on Facebook @GleanerJamaica. Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.